I grew up watching the sit-com M*A*S*H. It is one of my favourite shows. I still watch it from time to time, as much for nostalgia as anything, but I also find it anthropologically fascinating. Here is a show about the 1950s made in the 1970s. The premise is a mobile army surgical hospital in Korea, but it is primarily about doctors—most of whom are married—chasing nurses.
The surgeons’ overtures and actions are often inappropriate from a 2010s perspective. In one episode, the nurses are leaving because of an impending air raid. When head nurse, Major Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan salutes Captain Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce, he grabs her, bends her over and kisses her hard and long on the lips.
This explicit depiction of sexual assault is appalling in the current context, but was perfectly acceptable for network television just 40 years ago. The attitudes have not gone away. I saw a bumper sticker just the other day that said: “It’s a Jeep. If I wanted a hummer, I’d ask your sister.”
I am not shocked by that or the reports currently coming out of Hollywood regarding alleged serial sexual harasser Harvey Weinstein. Nor should anyone else be. When a disgusting misogynist and racist—a confessed p***y-grabber, no less—can be president of the United States in 2017, it is naïve at best, and more commonly disingenuous, to be shocked by such attitudes and conduct.
In fact, who among we men of a certain vintage, despite being taught (with a nudge and a wink) to respect women, can truly say we have never done, said or thought inappropriate things. There is a biological component to sex drive, of course, but our attitudes about it and subsequent behaviours are learned.
Weinstein has categorially denied retaliating against women who rebuffed him and claims any sexual activity with those who did not was consensual. If the allegations are true, there is a chance he did not realize he was doing anything wrong.
In the case of Brit Marling, the latest woman to allege misconduct by Weinstein, she said she went to his hotel suite, where he rubbed her shoulders and propositioned her with the suggestion of showering together before she got up and left. If it had been just a regular guy she had met, and she had walked out unmolested, perhaps there would have been no wrongdoing.
With a man like Weinstein, however, there is a power dynamic that skews the consent issue. Can an aspiring female actor and writer really say no to a man like him without at the very least the perception of political, social and/or financial consequences?
I’ve been at this op-ed writing game long enough to know I will likely be slammed for condoning or excusing Weinstein’s conduct even though I am merely trying to put it into some kind of context. There is a tendency these days to try to shut down rather than consider unpopular ideas.
For the record, I believe the alleged behaviour was categorically wrong, but it is not aberrant. In fact, it is all too common. This is the world in which we live and if we want it to change, we have to be able to discuss it openly. Otherwise, what we learn is not to change our attitudes and behaviour, but to keep our mouths shut.